Wednesday, June 20, 2012


An Ancient and Honorable Company of Scholars
On Saturday, June 9th, I marched in the 111th University of Chicago convocation. On that hot humid day - sweltering in fact, with temperatures topping 96 degrees, I donned traditional academic robes. A dopey looking tam on my head – tassel to the left, maroon robes with black velvet striped sleeves, and a purple velvet cowl around my neck draping down my back hid my tank top and shorts. The purple cowl represents the division from which I was awarded my PhD – the Division of the Social Sciences.

I don’t do well in heat. Summer is definitely not my choice season. Fall and winter are the ones in which I come alive, spring is for bracing myself. And a mere few years ago, I might have viewed the opportunity to participate in convocation on a steamy Chicago day dressed in the full regalia of a conferred PhD (without an academic appointment) not only masochistic but incredibly corny.

All of us who’d been invited to “process” assembled in the administration building by 8:30 a.m. for gowning, robbing, or whatever the correct term is. I dragged my husband along. His assignment was to serve as my official photographer. The last time I wore maroon robes – maroon being University of Chicago’s color, was over a decade ago. It was after a very long haul that I finally received my advanced degree.

At that time, I had no academic career lined up. – side tracked by family obligations, work, child rearing,the usual stuff. Now, I still have no conventional academic career established. But even without one, Icontinue to write, conduct sociological research, teach workshops, publish essays and articles, and make presentations. My title has evolved as have I. It’s a title of which in more recent times, I’m quite proud: Marlene Samuels, The Unaffiliated PhD.

As the kilted bagpipers began their familiar tune and marched in unison toward the dais, robed University of Chicago participating graduates followed, sandwiched between bagpipes and administrators - provost, president, board of trustee members, honorees, award presenters, award recipients, and a host of others. We made our way across the quadrangle. I forgot entirely about the oppressive heat, finding my assigned seat on stage under the shade of the canopy.

I sat near the edge with a clear view of the massive assembly. There the cool Lake Michigan breezes kicked up, it seemed, just as we all began to wonder how we’d endure another hour in our heavy robes. With each gust of wind, we all sighed a bit with relief.
Scanning the quad with its amazing diversity of graduates and families, I was again reminded of the unquantifiable, indescribable privileges I gained from my participation in this community. I still marvel at it all.

The time arrives for conferring honorary PhD degrees, announcing awards for outstanding research, for outstanding teaching and for ground breaking scholarship. One by one, recipients are introduced and called to the pulpit.

But then the words that result in more than a few tear filled eyes among us. They’re the words I seem never to tire of hearing, whether I hold an academic appointment or simply hope to apply my very unique University of Chicago education to unconventional pursuits:

“Welcome to the ancient and honorable company of scholars!”

My tissue is already in hand.


  1. Congratulations...and you look prettier than most of us can pull off in cap and gown.

  2. Marlene,

    So glad you brought along your husband-- that's the Marlene I know and love, mischievous grin and the beauty of determination beaming through. Proud to know you... Cheers, and love to you.

  3. Oh T- so sweet to read your kind note! Thank you, thank you!


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